Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Few Bits of Writing Advice





By Sandra Novack

I began writing seriously in 2001, when I entered my MFA Program at Vermont College.  I began publishing short stories in 2003.  Looking back, it seems that, over the years, many people have dispensed good advice.  Some of my favorites have been: “Don’t go into poetry; you’re much better at fiction!” (Advice taken, though, translation: Your poetry is really pretty bad!)  Or, “When you can write a story that appears in THE NEW YORKER, then you can criticize the stories in THE NEW YORKER.”  (Advice also taken.)  Or, “You really seem to excel at longer forms; have you considered writing a novel?”  (I did that then, to pretty great success.)  Or, my favorite, from my agent:  “You’re one of the most self-critical writers I know.  Be kinder to yourself; this is great stuff!” (Advice I still always seem to struggle with, every single day.)

Probably one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve gotten is also the most basic.  You want to be a writer?  Then write.  After whatever comes next?  Keep writing.  Here are some other bits I’ve gleaned over the years, which I hope may prove useful.

1)   There’s no one path to “success”.  Though many of us share similarities, in terms of ups and downs, high and lows, the truth is our writing/life paths, our learning curves for any given book, our routines, our schedules, our luck, our creative impulses, our processes etc., are all highly idiosyncratic.  Examples: I started off studying psychology and philosophy and had no intention of becoming a writer.  I didn’t attend a traditional MFA and had zero connections, but I landed a powerhouse agent on an 85-page partial and had that partial picked up, in a two-book deal, at auction in NY.  My first novel came together in a year, with very little revision from Random House.  

In contrast: I’ve written a whopping, polished draft and decided (and was essentially told) it wasn’t as commercially viable as I thought.  My new novel (which I’m told IS viable) has taken several years to write, and I’m still working on it!  My husband recently reminded me: “Not every work unfolds in the same way.”  (Just like people.)  


2)   You’re only really in competition with yourself, on any given day. Seriously.  To be fair, I’ve never really suffered from writer envy short of once, back in my MFA, but it was so terribly self-destructive then that I decided I wouldn’t go there again, and have done a pretty good job with that since.  Still, I know many artists—writers, painters, actors etc.—who seem to dwell there.  (PS Don't hang out with them; they will bring you down.)

Don’t look to the fact that so-and-so’s book came out before yours.  Your book might come out later, and do better.  Who knows?  Don’t think that this writer had a book 1.5 years after his previous one, because he’ll be the first to remind you that book three, written back in 2000, had a seven-year lapse in publication.  When you look at the fact that, for as idiosyncratic as all our paths are, we’re still really all in this together, then it only makes sense to be happy and supportive of one another's efforts.  Be  your best self.  Your best self is pretty goddamn awesome.

3)    The notion of “success”, or of having arrived at success, is a total and utter fallacy when you are actually serious about your craft.  This one I HAVE fallen victim to, again and again.  When I hadn’t yet published, I said, “If I publish, I’ll know I’m a real writer and am successful.”  Then it was, “If I publish again, in an even better place, then I’ll know.”  Other things I’ve said:  “If I get my short story collection published (which are notoriously hard to publish at all);” “If I land a powerhouse agent;”  “If a major house is interested in my novel;” “If I get starred reviews;” “If I get book-of-the-year;” Yada, yada, yada.  The list goes on and on.  I’ve had all of these things happen, and guess what?  I still feel like I’m not particularly successful.  

Why not say instead, “I want to feel productive each day.  I want to do something to contribute to this thing I love, called art.”

4)   Remember to enjoy high moments.  ENJOY THE RIDE, particularly those moments when you’re “up” and things are happening at what seems like uber-fast speeds.  Recently my agent said to me, “You don’t even realize how well you’re doing, do you?” You know what?  I honestly couldn’t say that I did.  This is not what the writing Gods want from you, Friends.  Pat yourself on the back, once in a while…geesh, at least that!

5)   Writing is already hard, so don’t make it harder by constantly doubting or self-criticizing everything you’re doing. There are more than a few people out there (genuine critics, and, god help you, the general public and more than a few “artsy” friends and family members) who are willing to tell you all the things they think you didn’t do well. Why be one of those people, with your own work?  You do the writing; you do your job.  Show up.  Let those people do what they do.  My personal opinion.  Frankly, those people aren’t really yours to own. 

6)   As always: Write, and keep writing.

Sandra Novack is the author of PRECIOUS (2009), a Booklist Best-of-the-Year winner as well as a Reader’s Circle Selection.  She is also the author of EVERYONE BUT YOU (2011).  Both are available from Random House.  Currently she is working on a new novel, which she hopes will be titled The Peacock Angels (if the name sticks with editors and agent!).  Visit her at:  www.sandranovack.com.    

24 comments:

  1. #3 and #5 are must remembers for me. I hope The Peacock Angels title sticks, too!

    Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Christa! 3 and 5 are my biggies, too.

      Delete
  2. Thanks,for the post!My manuscript has been dormant for a while now,and some times I wonder if I want this book to be published or not.I want it to be published,but there always a but lurking around,like me comparing my self to published authors,and I don't know if you would say I'm procrastinating because it's been a while since I have even touch my manuscript.I really don't know what the deal is,but it's good to read a post like yours.
    Here's a sample of the manuscript:
    http://treasuredspotwritings.blogspot.com/2011/07/psycho-bitch-unedited-version.html
    And another sample of it:
    http://treasuredspotwritings.blogspot.com/2012/08/psycho-bitch-definitely.html
    These are just some unedited pieces of my manuscript.....You really don't to read it,but I put the samples of manuscript up to show that I do have one,and it just laying around being dormant....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good luck with your manuscript, F.A.! I hope you dust it off and work with it again. :) I know quite a few authors with 'shelved' projects that they later sold with relative ease.

      Delete
  3. This is a small selection of great music I listen to, written from my own perspective as a fan and
    a user, with the aim of inspiring others to listen too.
    If you own a Black - Berry 9550 Storm 2, Black - Berry
    Curve 8530, Black - Berry Tour 9630, Black - Berry Storm 9530, Black - Berry
    Curve 8330, Black - Berry World 8830, Black - Berry Pearl Flip 8230, or Black
    - Berry Pearl Flip 8130, then you can listen to nearly a thousand songs on a
    single micro - SD card. The only issue I have is
    that they really should have found a way to double face the can, so
    it will work better in store shelves.

    Also visit my blog - chillout Radio

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow, that's what I was searching for, what a material! existing here at this weblog, thanks admin of this website.

    Visit my webpage; click for goldendoodle mini information

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi, I do think this is an excellent website. I stumbledupon it ;
    ) I will return once again since I saved as a favorite it.
    Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to
    help other people.

    My weblog - Abercrombie and Fitch

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is really great advice, Sandra! Thanks for sharing!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading, Brenda! Happy writing.

      Delete
  7. Dear Sandra, You could not have written this at a better time for me. I get so wrapped up in self-criticism and doubt I feel paralyzed. And just yesterday, I thought, "I just want to be productive." Which I forgot two minutes later. Loved your post. Worth 2 cents times infinity

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Sheila, I totally know what you mean! I always have to remind myself of these things, too (and then I forget them two minutes later). :)

      Delete
  8. Wonderful post, Sandra, with really solid, helpful advice for writers at all stages!! Well done :).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Marilyn, for commenting!

      Delete
  9. Hello my loved one! I want to say that this article is awesome, nice written
    and come with almost all vital infos. I would like to see more posts
    like this .

    My web-site pozycjonowanie

    ReplyDelete
  10. Howdy, i read your blog from time to time and i own
    a similar one and i was just wondering if you get a lot of spam comments?
    If so how do you protect against it, any plugin or anything you can suggest?
    I get so much lately it's driving me crazy so any help is very much appreciated.

    Here is my weblog :: Replica Rolex

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi this is somewhat of off topic but I was
    wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML.
    I'm starting a blog soon but have no coding skills so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!

    my homepage; Abercrombie & Fitch

    ReplyDelete
  12. Just desire to say your article is as surprising. The clearness in your
    post is just nice and i could assume you are an expert on this subject.
    Fine with your permission let me to grab your feed to keep updated
    with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please continue the rewarding work.


    Feel free to visit my website; rubbermaid expandable garment rack

    ReplyDelete
  13. Center -7 2 Kia Classic Leaderboard1. There are many center
    companies in India. This is working science 2003 and you can find these from the places you competition links to and from other blogs that are relevant
    to your niche.

    my website :: seo strategy

    ReplyDelete
  14. Once you have done this, set the burn speed to 4x and click Burn and wait for it
    to complete. Age Level - A good factor to write about is the appropriate
    age level for the video game that you are reviewing.
    Are you a Kansas City Chiefs or Pittsburgh Steelers fan.



    my blog: only-4u.com/read_blog/97..

    ReplyDelete
  15. Outstanding post because its writing ideas tell me how to write on note-book when you has allot school work thanks for share it insurance solicitation letter .

    ReplyDelete
  16. Impressive Blog! I like your writing style.Keep posting paper writing service

    ReplyDelete